When Your Time Arrives

Yesterday morning, I read Steve Pressfield’s blog on “The 10,000-Hour Rule.”  I thought about it all day long, then yesterday late in the afternoon, I crossed paths with one of my spiritual mentors, Father Greg.

“How’s the new book coming along?” he asked in his affable way.

“I’ve been working on it well over a year, and I still have a ways to go, but I like it.  This is the one,” I told him.

OlympianDespite some success with my previous four novels – particularly The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas – one novella and one trivia book, I’ve learned much in the 10 years that I transitioned from corporate America to full-time writing.

After reading Mr. Pressfield’s blog yesterday, I did some personal research and learned a bit about “The 10,000-Hour Rule.”  Based on studies by Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, journalist Malcolm Gladwell refers frequently to the 10,000-hour rule in his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success.

Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.  He uses the Beatles as an example.  The band amassed 10,000 hours playing in Europe, primarily Germany before the “British Invasion” when they came to the U.S. in February 1964.  The rest is history.

It occurs to me that I have cleared the 10,000-hour plateau, and as I work on this new novel – a lengthy, historical tome – I can actually see improvements over previous efforts.

No, I cannot, would not and do not consider myself a master in anything.  That title is reserved for a very special few.  Still, I can see the validity to Ericsson’s research, Gladwell’s interpretation of it and Mr. Pressfield’s blog about it in my own work.  I hope you will too when I release my new novel in about 1,000 more hours.

The Writing Process, part 1

a masterWhether or not you read Stephen King books and whether or not you like Stephen King, I am certain he will be remembered well into the future as one of the most prolific, if not one of the greatest novelists this country has ever produced.  I used to paraphrase Mr. King as saying, “If you don’t read, you can’t write.”  A bit of research reveals his method for success.  What he actually said is,

“Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”

I for one would not challenge his advice.

I want to focus on the ‘reading’ aspect, and I’ll return to my original paraphrase:  If you don’t read, you can’t write.  I have been an avid reader since childhood.  Among my favorite authors are Nikos Kazantzakis, Steven Pressfield, Mark Helprin, Victor Hugo and Ron McLarty.  Each writes in different form and each writes about different subject matter, but each is a master of the art in his own ingenious way.  I do not seek to emulate any writer, but I am certain that the more exposure one has to literature in all genres, the better-equipped one is to write and to develop her own style.

Just recently, I received a letter from a woman writing her first novel and asking for some advice.  She told me she was an avid reader, but had not read anything since she started her manuscript because she did not want “to be influenced” by another writer.

Frankly, I disagree.  If I read good literature and it influences my writing, then I am a better writer.  We certainly don’t plagiarize in any way, shape or form. pressfield However, Steven Pressfield once told me, “It’s okay to steal as long as you make it better.”  Touché.  I’ll admit, I’ve adapted a sequence or two from Les Miserables and even one from Mr. Pressfield’s Legend of Bagger Vance in two of my manuscripts.  My ‘theft’ didn’t make the original concept any better, but I believe it made my stories better as I envisioned them and eventually put them on paper.  I’ll challenge you to identify the book/s and — I think even more difficult — the specific scenes.  [My son Brad is excluded from the challenge.]

first fiveWhen I completed the fourth re-write of my first manuscript, The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas and believed I was finished, Mr. Pressfield advised me, “You might want to check out this book The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.”  I’ll discuss Mr. Lukeman’s book in greater detail in a subsequent post.  He devotes an entire chapter to ‘sound,’ which he likens to rhythm.  After reading Mr. Lukeman’s discussion on rhythm, I learned to begin each day reading poetry to help me establish rhythm to the prose I would write that day.

As I wrote The Olympian, I began my early morning reading Lord Byron’s The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold.  I’m embarrassed to admit I can tell you nothing about the poem, but I am convinced that it greatly influenced the rhythm of The Olympian in a positive way that made the book more ‘authentic.’

With four novels under my belt and well into the fifth, I am convinced that Stephen King is absolutely correct:  you cannot expect to become a good writer unless you read every day.

DWI: Dying While Intoxicated now available

DWI

  DWI: Dying While Intoxicated has arrived!

“When justice is blind, it cannot read the law.”

I am pleased to announce that my fourth novel, DWI: Dying While Intoxicated was published yesterday, May 24, 2012 and is now available from Amazon.com and other online book vendors.  It is available as a physical book and as an electronic book.

DWI: Dying While Intoxicated represents a departure from my work in historical novels.  I refer to it as a ‘cop thriller.’  It is a story of a man who takes justice into his own hands.  the narrative asks the ultimate questions of the reader, “When does the law cease to serve justice?  When is action beyond the letter of the law justified?  When?  By Whom?”  This story has been on my mind since the late ’70’s.  I first put it to paper in 2003 and decided this year to pull it out of the closet.  If you read ‘crime stories,’ you will appreciate this one.  You can learn more about the story by clicking the ‘About the Books’ tab at the top of the page.

You can go directly to the DWI physical book page on Amazon.com by clicking this link:

DWI on Amazon

You can go directly to the DWI electronic book page on Amazon’s Kindle store by clicking this link:

DWI on Kindle

Thanks for your continued support and interest.

One Writer’s Schedule

For most of us, creating a novel is not a whim, something you do when you feel like it.  Even with the best of ideas, you will not wake up in the morning to find a completed manuscript on your computer.  Writing a book takes discipline, and a schedule can help nurture the discipline it takes.

Throughout my life, I have ‘dabbled’ with writing novels.  Without exception, however, I have never been successful until I committed 100% of my professional life to the projects that ultimately resulted in published books.  To be more specific, I spent 30 years in the aerospace industry.  During those 30 years, I said to myself more than once, “I’ll spend an hour every morning working on a book, if I can write 300 words a day, I’ll have a 100,000-word manuscript in just a year.”  It never happened.  Never even came close.

I took a 2-year sabbatical from traditional employment to write The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas.  I ‘extricated’ myself for another two years to write The Hamsa, and Tobit followed during my transition to retirement from traditional employment in 2011.  Today, I can say with confidence and satisfaction, “I am a writer.”  That is all I do, write books.

As I complete my fourth novel, DWI: Dying While Intoxicated, I’ve learned that I cannot write effectively for much longer than six hours a day, and I do that five days a week.  Here is what my typical weekday looks like:

  • 0400 – 0600:  I rise, clear my email and write with a fresh copy of coffee on my desk.
  • 0600 – 0800:  I visit the Redemptorist community three miles up the road.  I practice contemplative prayer and passage meditation, attend community prayer and conclude with daily Mass [I practice Catholicism].
  • 0800 – 0930:  I write
  • 0930 –  1130:  I bicycle with my wife 25 to 30 miles
  • 1130 – 1430:   I write

I will reflect on what I am writing during my two-hour contemplative session in the morning, and during the two-hour bike ride.  I generally retire NLT 2000 [8 PM] except in the summertime when the days are longer.  After I shut down at 2:30 PM, I often read.  Without fail, I read every evening before I turn the light out.

While this schedule works for me, it will probably not work for you.  Each person has to develop the discipline and schedule that works best for her.  The point is, writing requires a daily commitment.  Without that commitment – and I remain convinced that a schedule can encourage and support discipline – the results are questionable.

Where Ideas Come From: The Hamsa [part I to post]

Roots grow deep.  I was raised a Catholic.  My father’s best friend, Louie Green was a Jew, and I remember attending the Seder Supper at Louie’s home during Passover when I was a young boy.  Because of Louie Green and several boyhood friends including Bobby Sandler and Marty Shindler, things Jewish were not foreign to me, rather, I was greatly interested in them, primarily from a biblical perspective.  I began reading Leon Uris novels [Exodus, Mila 18, etc.] as a teenager, and one rainy afternoon, I discovered Dr. Viktor Frankl’s volume Man’s Search for Meaning.  Dr. Frankl’s book inspired a life-long interest in Jewish things that evolved into an intense awareness of the Holocaust.

Hamsa
The Last Jew in Vinnitsa

In 1976, I  penned — and I mean literally wrote with a pen on paper — my first novel manuscript and titled it The Messiah.  It was set in a concentration camp.  The handwritten manuscript remains unpublished and in a closet.  Thirty years later in the mid-oo’s, I came upon a picture titled “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa.”  I will never forget that photograph.  Stories exploded from the image louder than the impending blast from the soldier’s gun.  I had recently completed The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas, and I was preparing to write my second novel, this one about human dignity.  I believe the depth of human dignity was tested no more strenuously than it was for the Jews in WWII.

Several months later, I learned of the Polish patriot Witold Pilecki, who reportedly volunteered to be captured by the Nazis and incarcerated in Auschwitz.  I was able to locate a copy of the report Pilecki wrote after he escaped after surviving nearly three years in the death camp.  I enjoy research, particularly historical research, and I pursued name after name as I delved deeper and deeper into Pilecki’s report.  One name led me to Polish Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech, the 349th prisoner to enter Auschwitz.  Czech and Pilecki

The Hamsa
Olympic skier Bronislaw Czech

were in Auschwitz at the same time.  The more I read about Bronislaw Czech, the more convinced I was that I found the protagonist for my next manuscript.  My working title was Into the Heart of Darkness, and I would use Czech’s story to tell a tale of human dignity.

Where Ideas Come From: The Olympian A Tale of Ancient Hellas

OlympianThe story behind The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas has been floating around my head since I was a kid and saw Rudolph Mate’s 1962 film “The 300 Spartans.”  Thirty-six years later, a friend tossed Steven Pressfield’s book Gates of Fire on my desk and said, I think you would enjoy this.”  My friend was correct.  A few years later, I was getting serious about writing a book.  I wanted to write about the real worth of a human being … what gives a person’s life value.  The Spartan stand at Thermopylae was how I envisioned telling the story.  Then I read an article about an ancient Olympic boxer, Theagenes of Thasos who won the boxing competition at the 75th Olympiad in 480 B.C.  By pulling the two events together — the Olympic Games and the Battle of Thermopylae — I developed the story I wanted to tell to present my core concept: the worth of a man is determined not by what he does for himself, rather by what he does for others.

In 2002, my son Brad and I had dinner with Steven Pressfield at a small Italian restaurant in Malibu.  I ran the idea by him.  He liked it and encouraged me to go for it.  Six years later, the book was in print and the film rights optioned.

What Books Are About

From my perspective, every book of value is about ‘something.’  Perhaps my belief in that statement is a by-product of having to write book reports all through my primary and secondary education.  Education has changed significantly in that regard; I don’t believe even reading books is a prerequisite for graduation anymore, much less writing reports on them.  That is a shame.

The heart of every book can be summed up in a sentence or two, and it goes far deeper than saying, “This book is about the War in Vietnam,” or “This book is about vampires,” or “This book is about love.”  I’ll use my three novels as examples.  All of my books are about human values …

OlympianThe Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas is about the worth of a human being.  It is set in ancient Greece and action takes place at the Olympic Games and concludes at Thermopylae, but it is not about those places or events, or about the two main characters, Theagenes the boxer and Simonides the poet.  The book is about human values.  My core statement that is at the heart of the book:  The worth of a man’s life is judged not on what he does for himself, rather on what he does for others.  Some time after the book was published, I came across this quote from 19th century clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher that describes the heart of the book better than anything I’ve read.

“Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the rightly using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own, solitary glory.  He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.”

Henry War Beecher (1813 – 1887)

The HamsaThe Hamsa is about human dignity.  Unlike The Olympian, which spans a few weeks — though flashbacks delve into earlier events — The Hamsa spans a man’s lifetime and the story chronicles three Winter Olympic Games — 1928, 1932 and 1936 — and the events described in the novel occur mostly in Europe but also America.  The final chapters conclude in Auschwitz.  But the book is not about these places and events, nor even about its protagonist, Bronisław Czech.  The novel is about human dignity and my conviction that all men are born with dignity.  No one can take a man’s dignity from him.  He can give it away, but no one can take it from him if he refuses to give it up.  Every part of the book focused on that conviction.

 

TobitTobit and the Hoodoo Man: A Mystical Tale from the Civil War South is about doing the right thing under the most dire of circumstances.  I chose to set the story in the Civil War South and to tell it from the perspective of a black slave.  It is not about the War Between the States or slavery.  It is about making the right choices to advance the goodness of the world.  Each man faces choices every day of his life.  If we choose to do the right thing — which is often is not the easiest alternative — our lives will be of the greatest value to humankind.  That statement is at the heart of the book and every event turns on that core statement.

 

The heart of every book — what the book is really about — should be branded in our brains from start to finish, and every word in the book should be written to support that idea.  My current project is about truth.  Truth is universal regardless of its source.  That statement will guide me from the first word to the last.  With the core idea firmly embedded in the writer’s mind, her story will hold together and reward him with a work of authenticity with the potential to bring value to its readers.